A Threat to MLB
The Federal League baseball field that was the home of the Chicago team seated 18,000. For more on the Federal League, try these links:
When James A. Gilmore became president of the Federal League in 1913, he had the vision of challenging the AL and NL as a third major baseball league. He sold his idea to other industrialists who were convinced they could make easy profits in baseball and have free advertising outlets for their products.
Prior to the 1914 season, Glimore proclaimed the Federal League to be the third major league in baseball. The Federal League teams waved a great deal of money at players in the National and American Leagues. Major Leaguer Joe Tinker became the first to sign, joining the Chicago Whales as a player and manager. Others would soon follow, including Three Finger Brown, Solly Hoffman, Danny Murphy, Howie Camnitz and Al Bridwell. Younger players also saw an opportunity with the new league, including Mikey Doolan, Doc Crandall, Russ Ford and Claude Hadix.
NL and AL officials worried about what they saw happening and upped the contracts of stars like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Walter Johnson to keep them from jumping to the new league. Joe Jackson was reportedly offered $25,000, more than four times what he was making with Cleveland, to join the league. He turned it down.
The Washington Senators got help from an unlikely source to keep Walter Johnson. Charlie Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, gave the team $10,000 to help the Senators keep Johnson from signing with the Federal League's Chicago Whales.
The League Opens in 1914
The 1914 Federal League season opened with eight teams -- Brooklyn, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas City, Buffalo and Indianapolis. New parks had been constructed in all eight cities. The Chicago Whales opened the season in the park that would eventually be known as Wrigley Field.
Federal League attendance was comparable to that of the established AL and NL. However, all three leagues suffered from having too many teams in the same markets. The Federal League also had a boost in attendance from a pennant race where all teams had been contenders at some point during the season.
The Indianapolis Hoosiers won the 1914 championship, beating out Chicago by 1.5 games. Franke LaPorte, second baseman for the Hoosiers, hit .311 and drove in 107 runs. Outfielder Benny Kauff led the league with a .370 average and stole 72 bases. Pitcher Cy Falkenberg led the team with a 24-16 record.
In the off-season, the FL continued to wave lots of money at AL and NL players. Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, star pitchers with the Athletics' 1914 pennant winner, made the jump to the FL.
Off the field, the FL filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the AL and NL. The case, heard in federal court in Chicago, was presided over by Judge Kennesaw Landis, the man who would eventually become the commissioner of baseball.
1915 Opens for Federal League
When the season opened, the champion Hoosiers were no longer in Indianapolis. For economic reasons, the franchise had been relocated to Newark, N.J. The team also sold one of its stars, Kauff, to the Baltimore franchise. He would lead the league in batting for a second year.
A three-way battle for the pennant developed among Chicago, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Chicago won the championship by a .001 margin in winning percentage over St. Louis. Pittsburgh finished third, just .004 percent by the winner. Chicago's win also saw the resurgence of two older major league stars. Three Finger Brown, 38, pitched to a 17-8 record and a 2.10 earned run average. George McConnell, 37, led the team with a 25-10 record and 2.20 ERA.
Losing in Court
In the courtroom, Landis urged the Federal League to come to a peaceful settlement with the National and American Leagues. With the threat of the U.S. entering World War I and mounting financial losses tugging at the league, the Federal League was forced to sue. As part of the settlement, Charles Weegham, owner of the Chicago Whales, was allowed to purchase the Chicago Cubs and Phil Ball, owner of the Federal League's St. Louis team, was allowed to purchase the Browns.
The players who had been part of the Federal League were to be sold to the highest bidder in the National and American Leagues. Players not signed would be the responsibility of their Federal League owners. The New York Giants paid a record $35,000 for Kauff.
However, some former NL and AL stars were not welcomed back into MLB because of their involvement in an "outlaw league." Among those were Joe Tinker, Three Finger Brown, George Mullin and Al Bridwell.
One of the Federal League's most lasting effects on baseball, however, would come in the aftermath of the settlement. The owners of the Baltimore franchise were unhappy that they hadn't been taken care of in the settlement and filed another anti-trust lawsuit against organized baseball. Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled in the case that "baseball is exempt from antitrust regulations due to its peculiar nature."